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Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.
Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in the United States of America.
Every time I visit the Emerald Coast, I uncover another layer, another experience, another timeless sensation. Centred around Destin, Fort Walton Beach and Okaloosa Island, the Emerald Coast boasts historical sites, modern attractions and delicious seafood, all surrounded by nature’s bounty. Here, Gulf sunsets are spectacular; the sugar-white sand beaches are serene; and the atmosphere is tranquil.
CATCH THE EXCITEMENT
During the summer, participate in guided nighttime sea turtle walks on the beaches of Okaloosa Island and Destin. In fact, throughout the area you’ll find animals you’ve never seen before, dwelling in habitats that include longleaf pine forests, steephead ravines, barrier islands and hot springs.
Dozens of charter operators can take you where the fish are running. While you’re out there, dive or snorkel in the clearest waters you’ve ever seen. If you prefer to sit back and relax, book a boat tour to a host of beautiful spots. Or if you’d rather propel through these emerald- green waters, every type of watercraft from waverunners to kayaks is available.
Visit family-friendly museums such as the Air Force Armament Museum and the Emerald Coast Science Center. Get up close and personal with native and exotic animals at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge Zoological Park and the Gulfarium Marine Adventure Park.
Love seafood? Emerald Coast restaurants deliver only the freshest fare from the Gulf to your platter. Personal favourite haunts are in the Arts & Entertainment District in Fort Walton Beach, the Boardwalk on Okaloosa Island, and the shops, restaurants and nightclubs in HarborWalk Village in Destin.
The Emerald Coast offers a unique combination—a spellbinding setting and a ton of fun!
Mexico Beach reminds you of a gentler, more innocent time when pleasures were subtle and sweet
In this little village of a thousand people located in Northwest Florida, time doesn’t quite stand still but, sometimes, it seems that way. The small town pleasures in Mexico Beach caress you, rather than scream out at you.
Here is where you’ll find one of the best beaches in America, unspoiled and uncrowded stretches of white, sugar-fine sand framed by emerald waters where much of the beachfront is protected from development. You’ll find, too, a friendly populace that actually greets visitors on the street. If you want to get on the water instead of in it, the fishing is world-class. And if you prefer to hike, canoe or kayak, you’ll run out of time long before you run out of places to explore.
However, there are also some things you won’t find in Mexico Beach. There are no towering condos or hotels lining the beachfront because there’s a four-storey height limitonall buildings. You won’t find chain stores or restaurants because al most every store and restaurant is family-owned; nor are there any traffic lights.
UNIQUE LITTLE SHOPS
In Mexico Beach, an interesting variety of shops includes special one-of-a-kind gifts, mementoes, gourmet and regional culinary specialties, and fine art galleries.
Colourful shops also line the roadside where Highway 98 crosses Mexico Beach, some of which are housed in picturesque old wooden buildings painted in vivid tropical hues. Frost Pottery Garden and Gift Shop features imported pottery, soothing wind chimes, local artwork and specialty gifts. At Shell Shack, you’ll come upon beautiful traditional shell work and, perhaps, some that is not so traditional! For unique nautical items, home furnishings and accessories, visit The Grove of Mexico Beach. And at Toucan’s Gift Shop, you’ll find “beachy” items for the whole family.
Mexico Beach may be a small town in stature, but local dining establishments deliver big-time culinary experiences. Toucan’s restaurant on the beach offers great fresh seafood—for which Mexico Beach is renowned—as well as spectacular views of the Gulf. A casual, appropriately named restaurant called Killer Seafood features a select menu of seafood that was swimming in the water just an hour or two earlier, and dishes that draw rave reviews.
Caribbean Coffee treats your taste buds to a variety of gourmet coffees and baked goods, such as ham-and-cheese croissants and sausage-and-cream rolls. Family-owned Fish House Restaurant boasts “the freshest seafood from the Gulf of Mexico” and one taste will confirm its bold claim.
And for honest-to-goodness, down- home Southern cookin’, try Castaways Southern Cuisine.
MOTHER NATURE’S BOUNTY
Modernity has yet to touch Mexico Beach’s beautiful natural palette. Here, the air is still fresh; the breezes still refreshing; the biking, jogging and walking paths still empty; and the colours still jump out at you.
A number of charter companies offer both inshore and offshore trips. There’s excellent fishing from the shore for pompano, on the City Pier for Spanish mackerel, and on board many charter boats for grouper. A watery excursion is easy as the Gulf of Mexico is only a few minutes from anywhere in town. And there are some 125 artificial reefs offshore where chances are good you’ll bring something back for dinner.
Nearly 60 distinct ecosystems in this part of Florida range from brackish tidal marshes and clear natural springs to extensive savannahs, where you can pursue activities such as hiking, paddling, birdwatching and wildlife viewing in two National Wildlife Refuges. Watch for the American alligator (king of Florida wild life) and the huge but gentle manatees (also called “sea cows”), as well as dolphins, sea turtles, armadillos, deer, black bears, gopher tortoises and river otters. This area is also home to hundreds of species of birds, ranging from songbirds to birds of prey.
Trek great hiking trails on St. George Island State Park and Econfina Creek’s Florida Trail. In Mexico Beach, whether you’re paddling a canoe, kayak or stand-up paddleboard, you’ll glide through one-of-a-kind ecosystems where the only sounds you’ll hear are the dipping of your paddle in the water.
If you’re looking for a place to unwind and relax, a place the crowds haven’t discovered yet, a place where your money goes farther, or a place where a gentle rhythm and pace remind you of a time you thought had long disappeared … Mexico Beach may just be the paradise you’ve been yearning for.
Participating in upcoming events is a wonderful way to meet local residents. Here’s a sampling of what is planned for the upcoming 2017 winter and spring season:
MEXICO BEACH SNOWBIRD APPRECIATION LUNCHEON
11:30 a.m., March 2
Celebrate your winter trip to Mexico Beach with old and new friends as you enjoy live music, door prizes and great food at the El Governor Motel poolside. And it’s all free!
AN UNFORGETTABLE WEDDING VOW RENEWAL
4:00 p.m., April 8
Commemorate generations of love as married couples gather to be part of this special complimentary vow renewal and reception
GULF COAST SALUTE AIR SHOW
Head over to Tyndall Air Force Base where the F-22 Raptor Demonstration Team and the Air Force Thunderbirds will be on hand to amaze you at this free event.
BEACH “BLAST” TRIATHLON AND DUATHLON
Sprint or Olympic distance and Triathlon or Duathlon: pick your race and distance All races start from a beautiful local beach at Beacon Hill Park.
FORGOTTEN COAST PLEIN AIR INVITATIONAL
American and international artists gather to capture on canvas what some believe to be the last vestige of authentic “Old Florida.”
During the Renaissance, Hieronymus Bosch painted the Garden of Earthly Delights, in which the left panel depicts his vision of paradise on Earth. One can’t help but wonder if he’d been inspired by Panama City Beach, for here you find beauty and variety in the midst of plenty. In short, a garden of earthly delights.
Think unspoiled Shell Island, a barrier island decorated by voluptuous dunes, highlighted by sashaying stands of sea oats. Or visit Camp Helen State Park—hiking through scrub oak forests, maybe spotting deer or alligator. Kayak at West Bay—Northwest Florida’s answer to the Everglades. Bike or jog along nearly 40 kilometres of unpaved trails at PCB Conservation Park.
But natural beauty and 43 kilometres of great beaches are hardly the only visual delights in this veritable garden.
A LAND OF PLENTY
Check out the art deco allure of Martin Theatre. Browse the pastel-painted shops populating Pier Park for souvenirs in this 83,600-square-metre stretch of seaside shopping and entertainment.
Maybe you want to get out on the water. Book a fishing charter with bait and tackle included. Learn to stand-up paddleboard or try kitesurfing.
Perhaps your idea of earthly delights translates to adrenalin rushes. Ride the Wonder Coaster or the Hurricane Rollercoaster.
Chase the sun or, once the sun has fled, take in some nightlife entertainment. For the day doesn’t end when the sun sets—hardly a surprise in the Garden of Earthly Delights, a land of plenty. Dance the night away at Schooners Beach Club, where you can take a break by strolling out the back door onto a silky soft sand beach. Check out Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge where the party never ends.
Whatever your tastes you’ll find a special event to suit them. Head down for Mardi Gras and Music Festival; take in the Emerald Coast Boat & Lifestyle Show; bop to the Seabreeze Jazz Festival.
For the garden of earthly delights is a land of beauty, variety and abundance. Though maybe that’s not the best nickname for this Florida gem. For the delights of Panama City Beach are downright otherworldly.
If you’ve ever visited Greater Fort Lauderdale you’re already aware of the many allures and attractions that make this an earthly paradise. And you’ve likely been captivated by its eternal charms.
EXPLORE IT ALL
Maybe you got away from it all at Deerfield Beach. Perhaps you checked out Lauderdale-By-The-Sea, a quaint oasis where everyone knows your name. Or maybe you opted for the sun, sand and vibe of Pompano Beach or Hollywood.
Chances are you availed yourself of other Greater Fort Lauderdale attractions as well: shopping at Galleria or along Las Olas Boulevard (a.k.a. “Style Mile”) or taking in the natural splendour of Sawgrass Recreation Park.
But to really sample a bit of ambrosia—to really bond with this corner of heaven on Earth—nosh a little lunch, brunch or dinner.
According to Norse mythology, Valhalla is the ultimate reward for Viking warriors—the literal playground of the gods. Welcome to Greater Fort Lauderdale—a foodie’s Valhalla.
Consider Taste Fort Lauderdale, a highlight of the prestigious 16th Annual Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Book a culinary pilgrimage here from February 22 to 26 to partake in a regular pantheon of earthly delights—a culinary cornucopia.
Dine with the stars at this signature event. Do walk-around tastings alfresco at Seaside Eats. Attend a bloody mary brunch with David Burtka and Neil Patrick Harris. Finish up your day of delights at a new offering in 2017: DRINK Fort Lauderdale invites you to sip signature cocktails after that omnipresent sun goes down, while caking in the delights and culture of FATVillage.
But you don’t have to come during Taste Fort Lauderdale to savour menus worthy of the great god Thor himself. “Depending on one’s mood,” says spokesperson Jessica Savage, “Greater Fort Lauderdale offers dining options that range from oceanside dining, cool coffee haunts and craft cocktail bars to unique ‘Floribbean’ (Florida meets the Caribbean) fare and various ethnic cuisines.”
Dock and dine. Do Italian. Chase that entree with a bespoke cocktail. Vikings may pine for Valhalla, but foodies in the know will always choose Greater Fort Lauderdale.
If your idea of heaven on Earth includes a complete and diverse playbill of events, then welcome to The Palm Beaches — a paradise of possibilities.
As palm trees sway in the Atlantic breezes, you can dine seaside on the catch of the day, dance to live music al most everywhere you turn and still come back to that perfect swath of sand with your name on it.
But sand, sea and sun make up only one facet of a Palm Beaches getaway. An irresistible one, to be sure, but just part of the big picture.
Sports fan? Film buff? Art aficionado? Then spell Palm Beaches “paradise.”
A SPORTSMAN’S HAVEN
Sporting events and possibilities are legendary. Love horses? Be mesmerized by the grace of show jumping as the Winter Equestrian Festival winds down at the International Equestrian Center. Maybe go for the adrenalin-inducing thunder of horse hooves at full speed at the world’s premier polo destination.
How about baseball? Catch a fly ball at the brand-new Ballpark of the Palm Beaches, where both the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros get an early start on summer during spring training. Cheer on the Marlins or the Cardinals at Roger Dean Stadium.
Maybe applaud instead your hero’s hole-in-one on the PGA Tour’s Honda Classic. Catch the biggest stars in tennis at the Delray Beach Open. Pick up that new fishing boat or just book a charter at the International Boat Show.
Perhaps your idea of paradise involves directors more than divots and masterpieces rather than chasing mahi mahi (though you can combine all here).
Sign on for the International Film Festival. Check out ArtiGras, or go for art with an attitude at Lake Worth Street Painting Festival. Or combine all things artistic at Festival of the Arts BOCA.
In short, head to The Palm Beaches this winter and you may never set foot on a beach (although that would be a huge mistake!). Because from sports and food to art and culture The Palm Beaches has the event and attraction guaranteed to satisfy.
It’s a paradise of possibilities.
First thing you notice when you reach Key Largo, first of a necklace of islands stretching into the Gulf of Mexico, is the colour of the waters. On the bayside a palette of greens and blues, on the Gulf side hues of downright cerulean.
And that’s when it strikes you — on board a glass-bottom boat off John Pennekamp State Park checking out the blue, red and yellow fish and coral, booking a charter out of an indigo and yellow building on Islamorada, or maybe taking in a pink and scarlet sunset at Key West’s Mallory Square — that it’s the colours of the Florida Keys that make them such an appealing destination.
That’s when it dawns on you that cerulean is the perfect adjective for these waters that stretch south from the causeway, nuzzling secret beaches.
For cerulean means heaven-coloured. And everything else about the Keys is downright heavenly—a destination that feels like heaven on Earth, a chain of islands each of which evokes a different mood and vibe.
A WORLD OF EXPERIENCES
The Florida Keys offer a wealth of activities, attractions and allures that are as kaleidoscopic as their colours.
Think Duval Street in Key West—sizzling, bustling, hedonistic. Yet Key West also boasts historic highlights like Hemingway’s house and Fort Zachary Taylor.
Think Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys where your only company might be a herd of tiny deer, cute as Christmas postcards. Or maybe sip a cool one at No Name Baron Big Pine Key in the shade of a veritable ransom of banknotes—a sort of quirky Keys rite of passage.
Soak up culture during Islamorada’s monthly Artwalk in the Morada Way Arts and Culture District or try your luck in the world’s sport fishing capital. Learn about conservation at the Turtle Hospital or bond with nature at the Dolphin Research Centre, both highlights of a visit to Marathon.
Go for local cuisine: catch of the day at Fish House, fine dining in Key West.
Or just enjoy the colours of the Keys, the colours of heaven itself.
Here in the warm, crystal clear waters of The Florida Keys & Key West, we get our thrills and chills from snorkeling, diving, fishing, swimming with dolphins, kayaking, paddleboarding and more. Not just on New Year’s Day. Every day. Anything else would be, well, unbearable.
However the trek from Fort Myers to Sanibel Island in Florida is more like a short road trip over a causeway before you start sunning yourself on the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. And the beauty of this junket is there’s not a castle spire or Mickey Mouse hat in sight.
Captiva Island has been a long-time favourite sanctuary among artists, writers, politicians and celebrities. It is part of a chain of barrier islands off the coast of Fort Myers that also includes CayoCosta Island, Cabbage Key, Useppa Island, North Captiva Island and Boca Grande. All are only accessible by boat or plane and offer plenty of interesting day-trip opportunities.
Our first “hop” took us to Captiva Island where we settled into comfortable family-friendly digs at the South Seas Island Resort. Spread over more than one square kilometre, the property offers short-and long-term stay accommodation choices ranging from private homes to sunny, spacious hotel rooms that are a mere stone’s throw from shops, restaurants and miles of white sandy beaches.
It’s a lovely haven for those seeking restand relaxation in a quiet setting and there’s no shortage of water and sporting activities to keep kids and adults happy. In fact, the property boasts three pools, six dining options, a spa and a nine-hole golf course. Singles and honeymooners can spend romantic evenings watching waves roll in ordance the nightaway at the friendly beachfront bar.
What struck me most about Captiva and environs was the die-hard commitment to eco-friendly tourism. No buildings in the region can be taller than the tallest palm tree on the island. You won’t find a coffee chain shop anywhere. And lights are minimized at night so sea turtles following the moon during nesting season aren’t distracted on their journey.
Birds and wildlife are regular visitors. A healthy population of ibis wanders the property, unfazed by human intruders. If you take a stroll down to the marina first thing in the morning you just might see a manatee pop its nose up for air.
One fun outing is a day trip run by Captiva Cruises to the Cabbage Key Inn and Restaurant. Built on an Indian shell mound, the isolated site has its own small menagerie of reptiles and other critters. Playful wild dolphins accompany the boat on almost every crossing, performing acrobatics and entertaining passengers who cheer them on.
The restaurant has a particular cachet. Every surface of the dining room is papered with thousands of autographed dollar bills. It’s a tradition that began when a fisherman left an autographed bill taped to the wall to make sure a cold drink would be waiting for him on his return. Now almost every guest joins in the fun. Notable signatures include Julia Roberts, Kevin Costner, Matt Groening, the George Bush family, President Jimmy Carter and John F. Kennedy Jr.
When in town you can stroll through Andy Rosse Lane, known as the “hub” on Captiva Island. Walk down the lane to the beach past boutiques, local art galleries and a lovely selection of quirky restaurants.
The legendary Bubble Room Restaurant is an intriguing throwback to a bygone area, with every nook and cranny of its three floors stuffed with nostalgic items and Hollywood paraphernalia from the 1930s to the 1950s. The food is plentiful and desserts are worthy of an award or two. But be prepared for mammoth servings and a rowdy crowd.
The next “hop” took us to Sanibel Island and the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, a 24-square-kilometre property that’s home to scores of wildlife including a wide variety of birds and native plants you rarely get to see. In fact, USA Today named the area the top birdwatching destination in North America.
A rare but unassuming gem along the route is the Bailey-Matthews National Shell Museum. Although it is relatively small by museum standards, it houses a spectacular array of rarities as well as common findings gathered from beaches in the region. Actually, this island is famous for its seashells and collectors spend hours combing through the refuse washed up onto the shorelines. Take care however. The island has very strict rules and prohibits any collection of live shells.
Our final “hop” was the Sanibel Lighthouse Boardwalk and Beach, a popular shell collecting site complete with a beautifully presented late 19th-century lighthouse where shells were so plentiful and literally crunched under our feet.
Back in Fort Myers, we settled in at the Sanibel Harbour Marriott Resort & Spa, a well-appointed property, which features a luxurious spa in a massive 3,716-square- metre building. There are plenty of walking and running trails, a long with a fishing pier, watersports and a yacht you can book for a romantic sunset dinner cruise.
One more-than-pleasant surprise was the Edison & Ford Winter Estates complex, which ranks among the 10 most-visited historic homes in the USA Kids might not be chomping at the bit when you suggest it, but they’ll soon change their minds. The buildings on the property exhibit ample evidence of Edison’s endless creative genius, from the first electrical cables to gramophones and early projectors. If you time it right, be sure to take in a demonstration in the gramophone room, where you can step back in time and experience what it must have been like to hear them for the first time.
Edison spent a great deal of his time at this stunning riverfront estate, where he worked his magic on more than just mechanical and electrical inventions. He and his wife also created one of the most complete botanical gardens in the country.
And literally a stone’s throw away is the home of Henry Ford where car buffs get an eyeful of models dating back to the early 20th century. One can just imagine the two inventors having a relaxed chat over the fence while tending to their gardens.
All in all, our visit may have been short, but it didn’t take long to realize the Fort Myers and Sanibel area has much to offer folks who prefer a more leisurely escape surrounded by nature.
Early in the 19th century, health-seekers came to soak in mineral water spas at White Springs. The waters had been so sacred to Native Americans that wounded warriors of any tribe could come here to heal together. The entire region is still peppered with springs warm enough for year-round swimming. Cave diving in the springs attracts an international who’s who of advanced underwater explorers.
In Gainesville, Floating Lotus Therapeutic Spa and Health Center offers yoga, waxing, facials, detox, BioMat therapy, acupuncture and a full massage menu. A Touch of Heaven does hair and nail salon services, facials, weight loss, bronzing, wraps and body treatments including cellulite reduction.
In Tallahassee, Better Living Day Spa specializes in wraps, skin care, waxing, sauna and body and nail services for men, women, couples and groups.
Most therapists on staff at Kanvas, a day spa and skin-care center, are also bra-fitting specialists. On-site is a shop selling luxury lingerie. The menu includes prenatal massage. Visitors who have a bad reaction to local sun or allergens come to Kanvas for Natura Bisse SOS Instant Rescue skin-relief treatment. Millennium at Midtown’s spa menu is extensive and includes chair massages while the salon offers permanent make-up applications for eyes, eyebrows and lips.
The cities have popular shopping malls, anchored by familiar national chain stores, but the area’s most offbeat shopping is in communities where former main-street mercantiles have evolved into boutiques selling antiques, handmade items of all kinds, specialty foods and baked goods. Within a stroll of two or three blocks you can have lunch and shop for one-of-a-kind souvenirs.
Micanopy (Mick-can-OH-pea) is a tiny hideaway on the site of a pre-Colombian settlement that was platted by a New York developer in the early 1800s.
Mansions, homes and merchants took root, only to see a fickle public move on to other settlements. Seemingly frozen in the 1950s, the hamlet has restaurants, bookstores and antiques.
Alachua’s old town center, home of quaint galleries and restaurants, is complemented by the new Alachua Gateway Center just outside the historic district. Shop and dine your way through both. At Dowling Park, crafters at Advent Christian Village retirement community create handmade quilts and baby gifts for sale in the Rustic Shop.
The region has six wineries including the Dakotah Vineyards and Winery in Chiefland. It offers tastings, tours and discounts on case lots.
Ethnic food stores are abundant in the two college towns. At the Equal Ease Plaza on Southwest 34th Street in Gainesville, large stores specialize in Indian, Middle Eastern, Indonesian, Philippino and Asian foods rarely found elsewhere.
Bradley’s Country Store, reached from Tallahassee via one of the region’s oak- cloaked “canopy roads,” retains the old-time charm of the 1927 original. Sausages are still made and smoked on-site. Stop to buy souvenirs and stock up on smoked meats, local honey, coarse-ground grits, mayhaw jelly, cracklings and such.
“In” spots for LGBT visitors can change quickly, so it’s best to get current local knowledge. In addition to places that may be presently in vogue, many of the mainstream clubs and restaurants sponsor LGBT nights and other special events for the rainbow community.
In Gainesville, connect first with the Pride Community Center of North Central Florida. Serving the entire North Central Florida region, it’s a pipeline to social events and specialty organizations catering to and for gay parents, walkers and runners, drug and alcohol concerns, helplines, advocacy, health agencies, crisis referrals, ministries, bookstores and much more. One recommended nightspot is the University Club (ages 18 and over).
In Tallahassee, the Family Tree Center has a library of resources serving every aspect of the LGBT community’s interests. Its meeting rooms and tent rentals are available to LGBT groups. Visit the centerswebsite for a calendar of current LGBT- friendly social events.